From its early days as the Singapore Performing Arts School to its current status as Singapore’s longest-running professional bilingual theatre institution, The Theatre Practice (Practice) has shaped generations of Singapore artists and audiences with its groundbreaking theatrical works and dedication towards arts education.
Founded by cultural medallion recipients Kuo Pao Kun and Goh Lay Kuan and currently led by Artistic Director Kuo Jian Hong, Practice has presented more than 300 productions in the past 58 years – many of which have entered the canon of Southeast Asian literature.
Take a walk down memory lane with us as we look back at the key moments that shaped our journey.
Singapore Performing Arts School is founded
Dancer/ Choreographer Goh Lay Kuan and Playwright/ Director Kuo Pao Kun founded the Singapore Performing Arts School aiming to integrate creative performance with arts education through dance, theatre and music.
Over the years, the classes offered grew to include Ballet (Goh Lay Kuan), Ethnic Dance (Gan Beng Lee), Piano, Accordion and Composition (Chew Seok Kwee and Ng Lay Hoon), Theatre (Kuo Pao Kun) and Stage Design (Kuo Pao Kun and Chew Swee Fa).
Practice moves to its second home on 12 Sommerville Walk
The school's income came largely from ballet classes as paid theatre classes were considered unusual during this time. However, many theatre students developed a strong passion and continued to be heavily involved in the company's productions post-graduation.
The Struggle (banned)
Written and directed by Kuo Pao Kun. Centred around worker's rights, The Struggle was banned just two weeks before opening night and replaced with an evening of plays and poetry. A response to the work, The Struggle: Years Later debuted in 2015 as part of Practice's 50th anniversary.
Art Ensemble is formed
Created as a division to create Mandarin theatre and variety show works, the Art Ensemble was the performance arm of the school. A year later, the group would go independent as the Southern Arts Ensemble.
The "Experience Life" campaign
Believing "art came from life", students spent weeks living and working alongside farmers, fishermen and construction workers to gain a thorough understanding of their lives, hopes and aspirations. These experiences would subsequently inspire dances and plays created by the students.
Practice Co-Founders Arrested
Goh Lay Kuan and Kuo Pao Kun were detained under the Internal Security Act for alleged communist activities. Goh was released shortly after while Kuo spent the next four years and seven months in detention. Goh continued to run the school in his absence.
The White Sailing Boat
Written and Directed by Kuo Pao Kun, presented at the Singapore Festival of Arts. Kuo's first original production post-release, The White Sailing Boat was a collaboration between 14 Chinese Theatre groups.
Learning and Exchanges
Directing workshops led by Kuo Pao Kun commenced, offering formalised theatre training. The workshops were attended by many of Singapore's current artistic directors and theatre directors.
The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole
Written and directed by Kuo Pao Kun. Kuo's first English work pitted man against establishment in a satirical monologue about government bureaucracy. Practice was also the first theatre company to organise community performances, with the monologue staged at various community centres and libraries around Singapore.
The Practice Theatre Ensemble is Formed
The semi-professional-theatre troupe allowed former students and amateur artists to further develop their skills. Their first production, a Mandarin version of Max Frisch's Fire Raisers, premiered the following year.
This also marked the start of the company's transition from Practice Performing Arts School to Practice Performing Arts Centre, with its two distinct arms: a performing arts school and a theatre company.
Practice Moves To its New Home at Stamford Arts Centre
Under the National Arts Council's Arts Housing Scheme, Practice was one of the first tenants in Stamford Arts Centre, a multi-tenanted arts centre which housed many of Singapore's pioneer arts companies. Practice would remain there for the next 28 years.
Choreographed by Goh Lay Kuan, commissioned by Singapore Festival of Arts. The production was Singapore's first full-length modern dance piece. It was described as Singapore's "most significant modern dance ever presented" at its debut, and included an orchestral and choral cast.
Mama Looking for Her Cat
Written and directed by Kuo Pao Kun. Reflecting Singapore's reality as a multicultural society, the play featured Mandarin, English, Malay, Tamil, Hokkien and Cantonese. It was Singapore's first multilingual play, and paved the way for other such works.
The Play In Arts Programme is Founded
Created by Goh Lay Kuan. The arts education programme harnessed the power of play and the arts to teach children character development. The programme continues, renamed as Practice Children's Courses.
Practice Invited To Manage The Substation
The Substation – A Home For The Arts was founded by Kuo Pao Kun, who became its artistic director. Promoting the experimentation of all art forms, it became an important resource for many emerging artists and companies.
Kuo Pao Kun received the Cultural Medallion award
The Student Theatre Exposure Project (STEP) is launched
Practice was the first theatre company to bring arts education directly into Singapore schools with touring productions, workshops and classes. This initiative lives on today as the Practice Education Project (PEP).
The Descendants of the Eunuch Admiral
Written and directed by Kuo Pao Kun. Following the journey of Ming dynasty eunuch Zheng He, it discusses themes of cultural erosion and social castration. The work remains an iconic piece of contemporary Singapore theatre and has been restaged by theatre companies internationally.
Goh Lay Kuan received the Cultural Medallion
The Finger Players is formed
Formed as a division to promote traditional puppetry to youths, the division experimented with different puppetry forms while performing school and community shows. The group would go independent three years later.
The Spirits Play
Written by Kuo Pao Kun, directed by Stan Lai and presented at the Singapore Festival of the Arts. A meditation on war and suffering, the work was one of Kuo's final plays. It is considered a piece of classic Singapore text, and has been restaged by theatre companies internationally.
The Theatre Training And Research Programme (TTRP) is created
Founded by Kuo Pao Kun and T. Sasitharan, the 3-year actor training programme featured a mix of traditional Asian art forms and western theatrical methodologies. The school would go independent 10 years later, renamed as the Intercultural Theatre Institute.
Kuo Pao Kun passes away
Kuo Pao Kun passed away at 63 after a battle with kidney cancer. Wu Xi and Kuo Jian Hong became Co-Artistic Directors of the theatre company.
Works for Pao Kun – Legend Alive was organised by Professor Vivien Ku, with collaborators and close friends invited to take inspiration from Kuo's works. A second edition was presented in 2004, and featured original works from Practice, and theatre companies from Japan, India and China.
The Inaugural Kuo Pao Kun Festival
An international celebration of Kuo's legacy, beliefs and contributions, the festival invited artists to examine Kuo's works through different lenses, cultural contexts and art forms. A second edition was presented in 2012, marking the 10th anniversary of Kuo's passing.
Lao Jiu: The Musical
Directed by Kuo Jian Hong, and inspired by Kuo Pao Kun's original play Lao Jiu. The musical marked Practice's first foray into Original Chinese Language Musical Theatre, a genre the company would go on to pioneer.
Kuo Jian Hong becomes Artistic Director
The Inaugural Chinese Theatre Festival
The inaugural Chinese Theatre Festival was envisioned as a platform to promote Chinese language theatre by showcasing a selection of black box theatre works from Singapore and the region. The festival would run from 2011 to 2017.
Practice Lab is formed
The Lab offered training to directors, actors, reviewers and playwrights in experimentation, creation and training. The programme was later replaced by the Associate Artist Programme and Artist Farm, a week-long creative bootcamp for international artists.
The wee Question Mark series debuts
Directed by Kuo Jian Hong. The first edition was awarded Life Theatre Awards' inaugural Best Production for the Young and cemented Practice's approach to Theatre For Young Audiences works with its light touch, interactivity and willingness to tackle difficult topics.
Practice moves to 54 Waterloo Street
With the planned renovations of Stamford Arts Centre, Practice relocated to its new home: a blue and white shophouse along Waterloo Street which also contained a flexible black box theatre.
The Nursery Rhymes Project
Created by Kuo Jian Hong. Consisting of illustrated lyric books, music albums and live performances, the initiative revitalised classic Mandarin nursery rhymes for the next generation.
Practice Tuckshop is formed
"Imagining a just and sustainable future through the arts", the cafe and programming space focused on championing multidisciplinary art-making, placemaking and community building, and providing resources for artists.
Associate Artists Programme is formed
The initiative was created to develop artists with multi-faceted capabilities, creating a community of practitioners that would build upon each other's strengths and develop different possibilities of collaboration.
Practice Tuckshop's long-running micro performance lecture meets rescued produce lunch party combined storytelling and dining to spotlight food waste. Various "spin-offs" include Recess Time: On Tour (intercultural touring performance lecture), Online Recess Time (Zoom talk show) and Recess Journal (documentation project).
Four Horse Road
Written by Jonathan Lim, directed by Kuo Jian Hong. Inspired by the history of Waterloo Street, the production was staged across three heritage buildings and has been described as Singapore's most ambitious promenade theatre productions to date.
Patch! A Theatre Festival of Artful Play
Patch! was envisioned as a festival which transcended form, genre or language, to curate a selection of art, performances and experiences to celebrate the importance of play. The festival would run from 2018 to 2021.
I came at last to the seas
Directed by Kuo Jian Hong. The multidisciplinary work explored the Chinese diaspora and featured an international team of cast and creatives. It was the first original work by a Singapore theatre company commissioned for Esplanade Theatre, for Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts.
Liao Zhai Rocks! tours to Shanghai
Written by Wu Xi and directed by Kuo Jian Hong, invited by SAIC·Shanghai Culture Square's Shanghai International Musical Festival. This was the company's first large-scale international production and featured a touring company of over 60 pax.
Exploration Into Digital Theatre
After Four Horse Road 2020's premature closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Practice was one of the first in Singapore to experiment with storytelling through a digital medium. Projects include an international festival, online school shows and a 55-hour livestream celebrating Practice's anniversary.
The Bride Always Knocks Twice — Killer Secrets
Written by Jonathan Lim, directed by Kuo Jian Hong. Inspired by the original Practice script, The Bride Always Knocks Twice, the production cemented Practice's approach to Digital Theatre by synthesising live theatre with cinematography, gaming, history, public space activation and UX design.
Created by Practice and Good Work. Providing a seamless digital theatre space for livestream performances, it was play-tested by Digital Theatre creators worldwide. XIMI was subsequently shortlisted for the 2022 Technical Invention Prize (TIP) and exhibited at the 2022 World Stage Design.